“They cannot see that growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness, that Phoenix and Albuquerque will not be better cities to live in when their populations are doubled again and again. They would never understand that an economic system which can only expand or expire must be false to all that is human.” ― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
This is one of Ed’s most telling quotes, one that is increasingly relevant to conditions in today’s cities and counties across this overburdened continent.
In my fair village on the Pacific Coast, local government is strangling in problems caused by a rapidly growing, profligate populace. What is government’s answer to the problems of homelessness, drug abuse, gang violence and crime? Why, more growth, of course!
In reaction to the inability of local government to deal with rising social problems, and increasing impacts on the non-human world casued by unlimited growth, common interest groups are forming to bring pressure on government officials to recognize the needs and desires of the local populace, in opposition to development interests fomenting back-door deals outside of public view.
Local government officials have resorted to corporate strategies to limit public participation in the decision making process, such as “charettes” that divide attendees at public meetings into small, moderated groups to diffuse and obfuscate their comments and control the discussion. Participants in public meetings are referred to in bureaucrat-speak as “stakeholders,” a term that equates corporate development interests with local residents. Government commissions and committees are viewed as representing “public interest,” even though the members of these representative groups are not chosen by the public and have no legitimate constituency.
What is needed is more neighborhood and community groups, meeting in homes and public venues, marching to city and county government meetings, writing letters to the editor (if such creatures still exist) and speaking out at every opportunity on behalf of resident interests, the non-human world and untrammeled natural habitat. When dozens of community residents show up at public meetings, government officials are forced, if only to avoid public embarrassment, to acknowledge community interests and modify their pre-ordained plans.
In the absence of meaningful public participation, government devolves to that which is designed and supported by those who show up, those who wear suits and ties, those who count success in six figure dollars, those who care little or not at all for the natural world that still remains. Growth maniacs who promote unlimited population and economic growth with no thought to its consequences on the human or the natural world.
It was inevitable. The Internet of Things has invaded the laundry room at our mobile home park.
This morning I took our clothes to the laundry room in our park’s clubhouse. Four washers, four dryers. You put your clothes in the washer, add detergent, push the buttons and come back a half hour later to hang the clothes up in the drying yard outside the door. Or if it’s raining, put them in a dryer and add even more coinage.
This morning there was a new twist:
The washers sat in their accustomed row, mouths agape, waiting patiently for my dirty clothes and offerings of coin of the realm. But wait! What’s this?
Sometime in the night, someone affixed two red and black signs to the pristine whiteness of each washer and dryer, signs that portend the end of the last remaining stronghold of analog technology.
The Internet had arrived in the laundry room!
In trembling trepidation I read the ominous signs of things to come:
“PAY WITH YOUR PHONE” “DOWNLOAD FREE APP” “SCAN QR CODE“
In truth, the Internet had not completely invaded the laundry. One has to download the appropriate application (“app” to those in the know) into one’s “smart” phone/camera (provided one has one of these ubiquitous devises. My wife and I don’t and never will) and then do whatever is necessary to connect that information to the Internet. Somehow, I presume, the Internet siphons your money from your bank account and tells the washing machine or dryer to start up.
This is a scenario that not even the most imaginative science fiction writers of my youthful reading past ever imagined! Not only that there would be such technology available in the humble laundry room, but that everyday people would be able to use it, or even want to!
I prefer the technology of my life to be always within my control, accessible when I want it, dormant when not. I want my thermostat (if I needed one, which I don’t) to be a simple thermal switch, responding only to the change of temperature in my house. I want my refrigerator to keep food cold, and my stove to make things hot. I don’t want them to talk to me or send me emails regarding their condition. I want my car to start up when I turn the key, to not make rude noises or talk to me, to be accessible for simple DIY repairs and maintenance as needed, and to not require a mechanic with a degree in computer programming and a CPA to fix it when it’s broken.
I’ll continue to hoard my quarters, insert them one by one into the proffered receptacle with a satisfying analog clink and press the “Start” button with my very own finger. This is sufficient, with no need for a multi-billion dollar cell phone industry to do my laundry once a week.
I’ll pass on the Internet of Laundry, thank you very much.
This past week we traveled from our Coastal California home to the Nebraska panhandle for a family reunion (more on that event later). Since we stopped flying in 2007, our trip involved an Uber ride to San Jose, a train ride to Oakland and an overnight stay in a motel, another train ride from Oakland to Emeryville, a long-distance train ride from Emeryville to Denver, Colorado, and a 250 mile drive from Denver to Nebraska. Our return trip was the same in reverse, except the final leg involved a 35 mile ride on a bus and a 40 minute walk from downtown to home.
That was all interesting enough, especially traveling over the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies. It was the culture shock we experienced in Denver that I’m interested in here.
I used to visit Denver frequently, back in the 60s and 70s when I lived in western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming. We called Denver the nesting ground of the forty story cranes in those days, due the the ubiquitous tall construction cranes looming over the Denver skyline. Dealing with Denver was reasonable in those days, even though after a couple of days I would flee from the city in panic, seeking the solace of higher climes and quieter venues.
That was nothing compared to Denver today.
The Transportation hub of Denver, and the Front Range, has always been Union Station downtown, even before Union Station was built. When I registered for the Draft in 1967, I came by way of Union Station to the Armed Forces Induction Center for testing and a physical. Union Station at that time was, well, a train station, right downtown, a short walk to the YMCA where I stayed for two nights during the induction process (it sounds just as mechanical and inhuman as it felt).
Union Station today bears little resemblance to its 60s appearance.
As if the glitzy, tented dayglo exterior wasn’t enough, the wooden pews, squeaky floors and frosted glass ticket booths inside have been replaced by a frenetic, cacophonous termitarium of fast food boutiques, souvenir emporia, WiFi hotspots, coffee shops and trendy restaurants, with overamplified, popular “music” throughout. What was once a place of relative quiet and contemplation of the railroad experience to come, a meeting place for family and friends newly arrived or about to leave, is now a Go To Place for youthful glitterati, an evening venue, a luncheon assignation, the Place to Be and Be Seen.
Tucked into what once was a ticket booth, off to one side, is the almost unnoticeable registration desk for the Crawford Hotel, which has taken over the top two floors of the Old Union Station, as well as new wings off to either side of the main building. The sleek and modern registration desk is flanked by the worn and polished woodwork of the original ticket office, and is staffed by an assortment of young and eagerly efficient attendants, who never knew Union Station in its original incarnation. The rooms of the Crawford are styled as “Pullman” rooms, in memory of the original Pullman sleeper cars that are no longer a part of modern railroad passenger transportation, carrying on the tradition of naming things for that which is lost. Blessedly, the rooms are well soundproofed, filtering out the noisy human activity echoing from the walls and ceiling of what once what the Union Station Waiting room.
The overweening youth culture of Union Station et al was repeated and amplified as we walked up and down the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. The May D&F Building (now renamed the Daniel and Fisher Tower) stands alone, forlornly shorn of its accompanying and supportive department store buttresses, dwarfed by the new and under construction glass and steel usurpers. The cell phone impaired walk the cement and asphalt floor of the dim canyons, unseeing and unaware of the snow capped Rockies beyond and the majestic cloud dotted blue skies above. It’s an intensely urban landscape, peopled by intense urbanites who know not what they have lost.
We greeted the arrival of our train, three hours late due to a freight train derailment in Iowa, with much relief and anticipation. It represented escape from the urban excess of a modern American city, a relaxed trip through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world and eventual return to our our wee and sufficient home on the Central Coast.
Our perspective gained from this time spent in the vibrant environs of what passes for civilization these days has underscored our desire to find a place of balance in this increasingly mad and dysfunctional world. The pace of development, gentrification and modernization will only increase until it fails altogether, in its own unwillingness to acknowledge the finite nature of life on this planet, our only home. We can’t stop it or even derail it temporarily. We can only strategically withdraw to a place where growth proceeds at its slowest pace, leaving at least something alive for the rest of the non-human world.
My purpose in posting this is not to cast aspersions on cell phone users. I’m just expressing my personal preference.
I don’t own a cell phone. Never have, never will. I’m not online all the time, I’m not connected on demand, I’m only within reach of an electronic device in the morning, when I’m working on my own projects at home, and in the early evening, Pacific Time, such as right now.
I remember, years ago, when car phones first appeared. My father, a doctor, told me, “There’s no phone call that so important that it can’t wait ten minutes until I can get to a telephone phone.” (That was in the Pager Period.) (Confession: My father has a cell phone now, which demonstrates the domination of environment over genetics.)
I agree, and I would extend that attitude to an hour, or hours, perhaps, on occasion, even days. I like to keep my telephone firmly affixed to the wall, where I can keep an eye on it, ignore it whenever it suits me, and pick up it’s heavy, black handpiece and apply it to my face on the odd and infrequent occasion when I choose to reach out and interrupt someone.
Telephonic communication is not a right nor a necessity, it is a privilege that should be cultivated and deployed with discrimination, consideration and forethought.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” we intone to one another, as we sit around the groaning dining room table and recite what we are thankful for. This uniquely US holiday is resplendent with images of turkeys, corn husks, orange pumpkins, Indian headdresses and the 1621 gathering of grateful Pilgrims and their feathered guests gathered around the table at Plymouth Rock.
This sanctimonious story is largely a myth, a point we are reminded of every year, but which, nevertheless, remains unchanged in popular culture. Children still act out the scene at schools, the Thanksgiving message is repeated from every church pulpit, politicians fervently reaffirm the theme and virtually every home celebrates the occasion with family and friends, traveling long distances at great environmental expense to carry on the sacred tradition.
When examined closely, Thanksgiving is a retelling of a story centuries older than the Pilgrims almost unsuccessful invasion of North America. It’s the story of a basic clash of cultures that started somewhere in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia some 10,000 years ago, when Sumerian peoples began cultivating cereal crops and domesticating animals. Agriculture creates a change in human attitudes toward the land and the non-human animals that inhabit it. Since agriculture requires the investment of a great deal of energy and resources, and ties the human population to its fields, those fields must be protected from wild animals and plants, and other humans, that would compete with agriculturalists for the produce.
This led to the belief that the land “belongs” to the people as property, and, as owners of that property, humans have every right to do with it as they desire. Increased productivity led to increased population, which required more land to be cleared and planted and more animals domesticated, which resulted in more food available and more population increase.
The belief that the land is property owned by humans led to the religious belief that the land and the plants and animals, in fact the Earth and the Universe, were created by the Gods for human use, that the humans are the apex of evolution, and therefor humans have dominion over all of Creation exclusively for human occupation and use and in which to enjoy fruitfulness and multiplicity.
Fast forward to 1620, and we see a people on the land of Turtle Island who are unaware of this special relationship with the gods, who see themselves as an intricately connected part of the natural world and who control their own populations so as to remain within natural cycles of resource availability. They’ve occupied this continent for 10,000 years or so, without laying waste to the roundabout thereof, without destroying the natural habitat that supports them.
The Pilgrims decanted from the Mayflower on December 16, 1620, a frigid day in the middle of the Little Ice Age, not at Plymouth Rock, which was rolled into place by local entrepreneurs in the 19th Century, but at Plymouth Harbor. Their new home was chosen on the unoccupied site of a Native village, as the land surrounding it had already been cleared and planted in corn. The Pilgrims didn’t know at the time that the way for their arrival had been prepared for them by previous tiny European immigrants, invisible animalcules carried in the bodies of European fisherman who supplemented their catch by raiding Indian villages for slaves to be sold in European slave markets. The resulting plagues killed 90 to 95% of the Native population of eastern Turtle Island, leaving their settlement and agricultural sites open for occupation by the European interlopers.
The new occupants saw these plagues as a sign from their god that they were the chosen people and this land was provided by their god to do with as they pleased, regardless of the remaining Native inhabitants trying desperately to survive in the face of a major blow to their population and culture.
So our prayers of thanksgiving these days are for the deaths of millions of Native inhabitants of this continent, the destruction of hundreds of millions of acres of natural habitat, along with the plants and animals that occupied them, all to make way for our ancestors to shove aside the locals and allow our brand of civilization to move in and take over. We thank our god for creating us as masters of the Earth and the Universe and for providing all this for us to plunder.
A note of caution – as we celebrate this cultural myth, let’s not forget that Nature bats last, that all species on this planet are bound by the law of limited competition; that is, any species that practices unlimited growth, that guards its resources from use by others and that kills off all competition for resources, will inevitably decline and go extinct as it disrupts natural ecological relationships and outstrips available resources.
Let’s celebrate this day with thanksgiving for the wondrous diversity of all of life on this planet that makes it possible for us to live as one species among the many.
I’ve not been writing much of late, at least not in this forum. Tickling these plastic keys is less esthetically pleasing than scribbling in a notebook with a proper pen and ink. What to do with it then after it is written? It rarely survives the transition twixt page and screen.
But things must be said, after all. The state of the world hovers between chaos and collapse. It’s hard to tell which way we’re headed.
“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” Woody Allen
If we’re lucky, we’ll have another recession soon, a good one, a thorough one, an economic collapse “with four part harmony and feeling.” Clear out the dross, bring down the high mucky-muck, unto the seventh generation. Everything is stretched thin and another economic blow might just break it permanently, with little resources left for recovery.
Yes, all will suffer, especially the high and mighty who have depended on this insane system of economic and environmental oppression at the the expense of trillions of living beings with no say in the outcome. Its about time. A season for everything. The pendulum swings.
We who still defend the wild and the wildlings stand on the shoulders of those who have lead the way before us. Those shoulders are dwindling, their voices stilled. And there are fewer shoulders growing up to take their places. Our voices are drowned out by the bombastic shouting of the growth maniacs and global economists, their political and military minions, and the general populace enthralled with consumerism.
Still, this too shall pass. That which cannot go on forever, doesn’t. A thousand years from now those still alive will be those who have accommodated to reality, learned to live in harmony with natural cycles, those who have settled back into living as one species among many, with no pretense of dominion over all.
The centenary of the October Revolution (the Bolshevik Revolution) will pass unnoticed by the majority of people in the United States. After decades of Cold War anti-Communist propaganda and the break-up of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, thoughts and awareness of the history of Communism and Socialism have been washed from the brains of all but historians and the few remaining dyed in the wool socialists.
The failure of the Communist revolution had many fathers, chief among which, according to Leon Trosky, was Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, who seized control of the Russian Social Democratic party and drove the Soviet Union into a state of repression in order to maximize modernization and industrial production. Unable to withstand external economic pressures and the West’s policy of containment, coupled with a nascent sovereignty movement from within, the Soviet Union collapsed economically and politically in 1991.
Despite the castigation of Communism and Socialism brought about by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the imposition of extreme crony capitalism in its place, the political and cultural ideals and theories espoused by Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Kemenev remain for study and reflection.
Here in the United States in the 21st Century, Communism is presumed to be dead, even though it lives on in the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam. North Korea continues a form of Maxist-Leninism called Juche. Communist parties continue in several countries, notably excluding the United States which persists with an exclusive officially sanctioned two-party system.
Karl Marx and later others clearly understand patterns of development of human societies and projected those patterns into the future. Marx saw capitalism as a necessary, inescapable step from feudalism to communism, with stateless communism as the ultimate goal of human social development. (Marx was not a Marxist, nor even a socialist. These labels came later, after others took up the banner he raised with Friedrich Engels.)
Looking at the political and culture situation in the United States, I begin to realize why understanding the works of Karl Marx is essential at a time when global capitalism is collapsing. Marx saw that capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction, and we see those seeds coming to flower today, in our federal and state governments and even in local county and minimal governments.
Our federal government is no longer a representative republic, but has evolved into a corporate oligarchy dominated by crony capitalism and an entrenched elitist political class. Government is no longer able to maintain public infrastructure, nor to respond to natural and human caused disasters.
“Unable to expand and generate profits at past levels, the capitalist system would begin to consume the structures that sustained it. It would prey upon, in the name of austerity, the working class and the poor, driving them ever deeper into debt and poverty and diminishing the capacity of the state to serve the needs of ordinary citizens. It would, as it has, increasingly relocate jobs, including both manufacturing and professional positions, to countries with cheap pools of laborers. Industries would mechanize their workplaces. This would trigger an economic assault on not only the working class but the middle class—the bulwark of a capitalist system—that would be disguised by the imposition of massive personal debt as incomes declined or remained stagnant. Politics would in the late stages of capitalism become subordinate to economics, leading to political parties hollowed out of any real political content and abjectly subservient to the dictates and money of global capitalism.” Chris Hedges – Karl Marx was right
I certainly see it in the small town where I live on the Central Coast of California. Our community is overrun by what is euphemistically called “The Homeless,” who are, in reality, those who have fallen into the cracks of the decline of social services. With no mental health facilities, no economic or cultural support structure, increased drug addiction as a result of capitalist medical prescription of opioid drugs, in a capitalist economy based on tourism with no manufacturing base, those in need find themselves living on the streets. (This is not to discount the contribution of the “lifestyle homeless,” those who choose to live rough for idealogical reasons or just plain laziness.)
Our county and state governments no longer have sufficient budgets to maintain and repair existing infrastructure. Based on constrained property and declining sales taxes, the local economy is unable to provide sufficient funding for simple structural maintenance of existing roads and public buildings, and for continuance of even the most elementary social services. Yet they continue to build more, because capital construction is funded by grants, which, by the way, provide overhead for a bloated departmental bureaucracy.
Politically, the bizarre circus atmosphere in our nation’s capital makes federal government increasingly remote and unapproachable. Fewer and fewer citizens participate in the obviously corrupt and manipulated national electoral process, dominated by an official two party system that excludes all other political affiliations. Increasingly, citizens, if they vote at all, prefer to focus on local politics where they can have real influence.
Increasing public dissent and resistance across the country gives me hope that all least someone is paying attention. Even so, there is no hope of a popular insurrection at any time in my increasing short life span. The system of repression, distraction and control of public opinion developed in past decades is successful in diverting and diffusing organized political opposition, through control of media, infiltration and isolation of organizers and outright militarized police oppression of Constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of assembly and speech.
This is not a call to rise up and storm the barricades, it’s just observations of what is arising of itself in the United States and the rest of the capitalist world.